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Why God Sometimes Says “No”


 

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17)

We’ve all experienced those occasions when our prayers seem to have gone “unanswered”. Given the many comments in the Bible regarding the Lord hearing our prayers, could there really be such a thing as “unanswered prayer”? While the obvious answer is “no”, why is it that we sometimes ask but don’t receive?

In order to answer this question, let’s first be honest about what we mean by “unanswered prayer”. Basically, when we use this term, we’re not saying God didn’t answer, but rather that His answer was “no”. This leads to another important question (and one that IS answerable), “Why does God sometimes say ‘no’”? Let’s open up the Bible and look at some reasons why the Lord may deny our requests:

Lack of humility – Sometimes we feel that we know what’s best and proceed to tell God what we need. Even worse, we get angry when He doesn’t answer fast enough or in the way that we want. One of my favorite examples of humble prayer is the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon (Mark 7:24-30). Trying to help her daughter, the woman fell down at the feet of Jesus and begged for His help. Her posture alone speaks volumes about her mindset. She is approaching Jesus humbly, as a beggar. When the Lord responded to her plea with “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”, she was not fazed and replied, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”. She didn’t complain, she wasn’t offended and, more importantly, she didn’t give up. Instead, she continued to ask, humbly trusting in the Lord’s ability to help. The result? Her daughter was healed. What would have happened if the woman took offense and stormed off after the Lord’s initial response?

Lack of faith – When the disciples came to Jesus and asked why they were unsuccessful in casting a demon out of a boy, the Lord’s response was blunt and to the point – “Because of your little faith” (Matthew 17:20)! When we approach Jesus with a request, do we really believe in His power? Maybe, but that can change in a hurry, especially when a sick relative for whom we’re praying starts to take a turn for the worse. How important is faith when we pray? According to Jesus, “whatever you ask for in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). Does that mean that every time God doesn’t grant our request it’s because our faith is lacking? No, but it could be a contributing factor and should be addressed. Before you panic about your weak faith, however, remember that faith is a gift and you can’t increase it on your own. What you can do is ask the Lord to increase your faith, just like the father of the boy with a mute spirit, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Asking for the wrong things – Let’s be honest, sometimes we pray for the wrong things. Even though it may be unintentional, we often ask for things that will increase our comfort and could harm our relationship with the Lord. That new job might pay more money and help us to better provide for our family, but it may require us to work extra hours which could cut into our family time. The increased earnings and security could also cause us to rely less on God, thinking that we are in total control of our lives. Once again, Scripture offers a clear answer to why we sometimes ask, but do not receive – You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:3).

It may be harmful to us – Sometimes we ask for things that would be harmful to us spiritually. These seemingly “good” things could possibly cause us to lose our salvation. Even though Jesus promised that if we ask, we’ll receive, He never said that we’ll get EXACTLY what we requested. In fact, He assured us that we would not be given anything that is not good for us:

“Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

Instead of upsetting us, Jesus’ words should cause us to rejoice and give us confidence to ask for whatever we think we need. Ultimately, we know that the Father will never provide us with something harmful, even if we unwittingly request it!

He has something better in mind – As hard as it is to admit, sometimes we just can’t see the big picture. God always knows what’s best for us and for those around us. He also has a plan for our lives and that often involves doing things that we’d rather not do. Very few people would pray for increased suffering or more crosses in their life. As human beings who have a tendency to avoid pain and suffering, that is perfectly normal. Sometimes, however, doing God’s will involves suffering and even death. I have personally prayed for the physical healing of cancer-stricken relatives who have died. Does that mean that God didn’t answer my prayers? Not at all. He simply said “no” to the physical healing because it wasn’t what was best. One of my favorite and most comforting Bible verses is Romans 8:28 – We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him. Not just the good things, but EVERYTHING! Sometimes, my friends, we just have to trust that God knows more than we do. While we should never stop asking, we should be open to His answer. One of the best illustrations of this can be found by looking at Jesus’ prayer on the night before He died. Providing us with a powerful example of how we should pray for our needs, but remain open to God’s response, He used the following words:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this chalice from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

It’s perfectly acceptable for you to pray that your husband is healed from cancer or that you get that new job, but always be open to God’s Will. He sees the big picture and really does know what’s best. Imitate the example given to us by Jesus and always trust in His providence.

Although it’s difficult to accept, we need to trust that God always has a reason for saying “no” to our requests. He does this out of love and because He “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). Just like any loving parent, the Lord will sometimes say “no” because it really is what’s best for us. We may not get it now, but someday we’ll thank Him!

30 Comments

  1. romana sobotka says:

    have you read: Where is God when it hurts?
    i believe in blind faith in the Lord, whether i like it or not, His will supercedes all and i accept it.
    and yes, i don’t like it sometime, but i have come to accept it peacefully.

  2. Matteo Masiello says:

    Gary, thanks for writing this.

    I understand what the NT says, and what the OT says about suffering, evil, and why prayers are not answered. What option should a cancer patient choose when they aren’t cured?

    I have to admit that the tension I feel comes from the tendency to see God in the more orthodox or traditional theistic way. When I do that, I can’t help but read God as being a capricious being who is not a very good communicator with it’s creation. I see God as claiming to love His creation as a parent, a friend, a lover even, but not liking its creation very much and not very attention to its needs. I see God as a despot who wants to reconcile all things to Himself, and claims to be eternal in His virtues and characteristics, but not really as there are clearly limits to His own ability to influence (not control mind you) His own creation.

    Fortunately, I don’t see God this way. I see God as being “person” in the character of Jesus and in other creatures of His as they express love, mercy, compassion, gratitude, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in Jesus and these other people. This, for me, is how we realize our original blessing as children of God. I think that God has set things in motion, so to speak, and that it is all part of His plan, to use that language. It is then our responsibility to be God so to speak to others by allowing God to work through us.

    I think all the reasons mentioned in scripture for suffering and evil, etc., namely when God says “No” is our own distorted perception. I don’t believe God can say “no” as it is clear from scripture that everything is a resounding YES when it comes to this creation. Pastorally, we have to be that YES to those who are faultering “the least among us.” Who are the least among us? Everyone around us and us!

    When Jesus comments on someone not having enough faith, well, I think everyone, including the disciples falls into that category. There is no difference to me between Peter and Judas, or the rich man, or the blind man, or the Samaritan, or Martha, or Lazarus. Maybe even Jesus himself as He becomes like us. This is the God I can follow.

  3. Bender says:

    Given the many comments in the Bible regarding the Lord hearing our prayers, could there really be such a thing as “unanswered prayer”? While the obvious answer is “no”

    Actually, there are prayers that God will not answer, not even with a “no,” there are prayers that He will refuse to even consider.

    You want an example? What was Jesus’ response to the “prayer” of Herod to peform this magical feat and that magical feat?

    His response was . . . nothing. Not, “no,” but genuine non-responsiveness. Jesus, that is to say, God, ignored him.

    Why the non-answer, why not even the curtesy of a “no”? God is under no obligation to listen or respond to prayer made in bad faith, prayer that is essentially blasphemous, prayer that is a sin to even utter, prayer that merely injures the heart and soul to such an extent that it is even incapable of authentically talking to God.

    1. Matteo Masiello says:

      What is the scripture reference for this?

  4. Matteo Masiello says:

    Okay Luke 23:7-15. It reads that Herod (which one is up to speculation) was interested in seeing a miracle by Jesu, and “he [Herod] questioned him [Jesus] in many words; but he answered him nothing.” (verse 9). That can hardly be considered a prayer. What is bad faith and who are we to determine that? You can make the case that the Psalms are prayers so maybe God can say “no” to something like Psalm 137 which ends with the cheery line: “Happy is the one who seized your infants and dashed them against the rocks.” Has God ever agreed with that? Should we? Again, I think when you say things like God is under no obligation, it implies a god I want nothing to do with. I always here some Christians say things like this that God didn’t have to create us, or doesn’t need us. Then everything that God says about being our parent, our teacher, our lover, our guide, is disingenuous. That makes God into a jealous stalker who when rejected counters with sociopathic violence. I agree with Gary that God wants something better for us which we aren’t conscious of at the present time. When there is lack of humility or faith, I think that God continues to woo us and draw us to him, kicking and screaming if necessary. So, there can’t be a NO involved. Maybe a “How about this instead?” or “Wait a little longer, please.” He grants Satan’s request in Job, so I guess Satan has more humility and faith than us.

  5. mitchell says:

    My spiritual advisor put this excellent question another way, what would have happened has God said yes to Christ’s prayer at gesthamene.

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      Great point, Mitchell!

  6. Carolyn Lemanski says:

    “Total Consecration”
    I have purchased St. Louis DeMonfort’s book a long time ago. I keep moving the book from its place. Knowing I am being called to read this book and consecrate myself to Our Lady.
    Thank You for being the spark that will help ignite the flame that Our dear Lord wants to set a blaze within my heart and soul.

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      My pleasure, Carolyn. As we go through the process, please let me know how I can help.

  7. Matteo Masiello says:

    I don’t believe that Jesus could have ever asked such a thing as he claimed to be one with the Father. In essence one with himself. So it’s a contradiction to suggest that Jesus could have asked for anything. Can God ask Himself what He wants? Had God said yes, thought, then I think He would have done so because He being God would have come up with a more rational response to solving the problem without using sanctified violence. Maybe God would have decided to be truly merciful and forgiving.

  8. [...] While the obvious answer is “no”, why is it that we sometimes ask but don’t receive? …more Why the Internet Will Lead to Mass Conversions to Christianity Greetings from Dallas! [...]

  9. [...] Why God Sometimes Says “No” – Gary Zimak, Following the Truth [...]

  10. John says:

    “I don’t believe that Jesus could have ever asked such a thing as he claimed to be one with the Father. In essence one with himself. So it’s a contradiction to suggest that Jesus could have asked for anything” The request at Gethsemane is scriptural and you say you don’t believe it? Then you ask Bender for a scriptural reference….You have some SERIOUS issues. Sort them out and please be consistent when you post.

    Jesus is fully human and fully divine – this is a mystery – the hypostatic union. If you can fully comprehend this then you have a special grace from God. Jesus the man knows the painful, horrific fate that awaits him – is it not human to dread it and desire not to undergo it? This sanctified violence you abhor is necessary if you see Jesus as the Passover lamb. There needs to be a sacrifice or a retribution to atone for Israel’s/humanity’s sins. You need a deeper understanding of the Old Testament and salvation history. Humanity cannot keep from sinning – over and over again man breaks his covenants with God. We deserve death/hell/God’s retribution but God so loved us he gave his only begotten Son and offered the ONLY sacrifice that can suffice. No offering from man can (this is scriptural) only the Son of Man who is both human and God.

  11. John says:

    “Had God said yes, thought, then I think He would have done so because He being God would have come up with a more rational response to solving the problem without using sanctified violence.”

    Why is it violent? Sacrifices in the Old Testament involves killing. That’s one way to look at it. Another would be that Jesus took on all the sins of the world – the worst of humanity was on display during his Passion – violence, murder, betrayal, cowardice, hate, lies, indifference, injustice, etc. He went to battle (again violence) and emerged victorious with his death on the Cross.

    The Catholic Church has the deposit of faith – be guided by its teaching, its dogma, its doctrine. Read the Cathecism, not only scripture. It can clarify some issues you may be wrestling with (obvious in your statement implying God is somehow irrational). Pray, read, contemplate and grow in your faith.

    1. Matteo Masiello says:

      John, I appreciate your response. I agree with you on when you say that “that’s one way to look at it” which I do. I believe that Jesus was crucified BECAUSE of human beings and not FOR human beings. To say that he was crucified for US, meaning anyone who was not alive at that time, opens up a problem for me which there is no explanation. To say ultimately that “Jesus took on all the sins of the world – the worst of humanity was on display during his Passion – violence, murder, betrayal, cowardice, hate, lies, indifference, injustice, etc.” and that “he went to battle (again violence) and emerged victorious with his death on the Cross” to me are more theological statements to explain the event. If that is truly what happened, then there is no reason why there is still death and sin in the world as all the beings who did not exist at that time (like you and me and everyone reading this) would have been born without the stain of original sin. I understand the reasoning behind all the creeds and all the theology of the church, but none of them answer the question. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe that the events described took place, I just don’t think they can be taken literally or historically, as say, the events of September 11, 2001. We all know what happened and that it happened, but we are living more with the repercusions of that event and its meaning. The actual event is not relevent to the how we deal with its meaning. It of course is important, but irrelevant as it is stuck in time and cannot be changed. So, in that sense, I still believe that Jesus lived, preached, performed miracles, said pretty much all of what is attributed to him, was crucified and was resurrected. I believe it all even if it (any of it) didn’t happen in time. I’m not saying that it didn’t happen. I am saying “even if”. I admit that even as I pray, expose myself to the catechism, and cautiously study doctrine and dogma, I don’t believe much of the creeds because none of them explain anything about the nature of Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit. For me, it is in the daily living of the words of Jesus, having a trust in God which means trusting that no matter how bad things seem to get, all will be well. Why, because God, meaning not a being in and out of space and time, but time and space ITSELF is there with me, in me, around me, like air and water – like what makes me exist. This is my faith, as inadequate as it may seem to others. It is not the Pope’s faith, my bishop’s faith, my priest’s faith, your faith, my wife’s faith, but mine. And I hope that that is okay for now in that limited capacity with God. If it isn’t, then I see no reason to be blamed fopr anything. God created me with the original blessing, NOT the original sin of being His child. As I grow in that role, all I can do is rest in the assurance that when I fall short, I will be comforted, picked up, brushed off, patted on the back and told to move on with Him. I see no need to santify violence and I see not need to worship a bloodthirsty god, which doesn’t deserve that worship. That is not my god. I want nothing to do with something like that. It makes me more secure knowing that that old belief is as dead as the cultures which utlized it.

      1. Beeb says:

        @Mateo Massiello
        Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father call him.” Scary, huh? Has He not called you? But you won’t come to Him. Anyone can always reject Him and the Father because of free will. Scarier, huh? Jesus also said in John’s Gospel, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” I have to tell you, all of us come to a point where logic, reason, trying to “figure it all out” fails us. That is the point where the solid ground ends and we have to walk on water, on air, on nothing, so to speak. At this point we are required to say, “I believe anyway, even though it doesn’t make “sense” and I don’t understand.” This is what we call “faith.” It is believing what you don’t understand simply because you trust the person who said it. You can’t change it, make up other explanations because you can’t see how it fits in time, in history, or why we are not all now born without original sin. It is faith and belief because you trust the people who reported it are telling the truth. Do you believe the earth revolves around the sun? Do you know that from your own experience, or do you just believe it because you trust the scientists who told it to us? In the same way, we trust the accounts of the Bible, and what Our Lord said and did, because we trust Him and the disciples who reported it. St. Paul said the Cross is “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.” 1 Cor. 1:2-3 Why? Because the Jews could not let themselves believe the Messiah would die a criminal death, and the Greeks were logical and the message “didn’t make sense,” a little like what you are expressing. What would help you is to admit it is beyond you (many if not all of us must eventually admit it is beyond our ability to understand) and believe simply because God says it is true. I pray you will be able to receive the grace that makes this possible. God bless you.

  12. Croix says:

    Well, many years ago I prayed for my wonderful cousin to get married. She got cancer. She was cured eventually, but that illness made her bitter and anxious, and completely ruined her father’s health.
    Some time ago I felt obliged to pray for her new job. Soon she got cancer again.
    Am I the only one who thinks it’s hard to believe that these “gifts” were not snakes, but fishes?
    You need a lot of faith to really believe that He knows what He’s doing with us :-( (

  13. Eileen says:

    I’ve come to believe that we often forget that we are only a piece in a giant picture or a single actor in a huge play. When we ask for things, I believe the answer has a lot to do with how things also reflect on the greater picture and all the other people affected. Jesus, I trust you and Thy will be done play into this concept that we are not the stars in the show. Everyday I’m surprised by things that show that God is there and caring for me. Within God, Father really does know best regardless of what I want at any given time.

    1. Matteo Masiello says:

      Amen.

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  15. Beeb says:

    I have found if I pray for things in line with God’s will, those things are usually answered. So I pray my relatives and friends (and everyone, for that matter) will be saved, that they will come to Him. I pray God will provide for my material needs, in so far as He sees fit. I pray He will help me to follow Him and trust Him more. If people I know are ill, I pray for their recovery, but if this is not His will, then that they may be given the grace to endure their illness and grow in faith. When I was much younger I fell into the temptation to pray for things that would fulfill MY will, like giving God my wish list, like He worked for me. Now I try to follow the example of Jesus in the Garden; I make my request, but also say, not my will but Yours be done. If my loved one does not recover, I trust that even if it is not what I had wanted, (as Jesus was crucified regardless of His prayer), God heard my prayer and helped them unseen and I am given the grace and strength to continue to trust God, knowing my purpose and end are not in this world, but in the next. His will be done! Another good example for us is the Blessed Mother. If you look at the facts of her life outside of faith, she did not have such a great life. She was found pregnant without good explanation, they had to travel in her ninth month to be counted in a census, then there was no place for them, they had to escape and live in Egypt to save the life of the child, her husband died and left her a widow and her only son left her to preach, not to work and take care of her, then he was captured by the authorities and put to death as a criminal, and she witnessed his brutal and horrible death. I would guess she prayed for just the opposite in every instance, yet she always prayed God’s will would be done. How would we react if even one of those things were happening to us? Yet, in faith, we see Mary is the greatest of all women, graced beyond all humanity, finding favor with God, because of her ability to pray God’s will be done, and accept His will without question. If we are not doing that, we have a long way to go…

  16. Deacon Don Bourgeois says:

    It’s not so much that Good says “NO” to our prayers, He says “I HAVE A BETTER IDEA”. Then if you are open to His will for you He will guide you to where He wants you and what is best for you.

  17. Nsncy Woldowsky says:

    As a women who has lived to be 78 years old, I know that God has always answered my prayers. Sometimes God says “no”( No is answer and if you have children ..you know what I mean) and sometimes “yes” and sometimes “keep praying”. He is an awesome God and whatever His answer is to me I trust in Him. He is “all knowing” and I am not!

  18. Arline T. Kendrick says:

    I feel God gives to each and every one of us just what we need when we need it. To quote an old saying, “Father knows best,” and He certainly does without question. He’s our Supreme Parent in Heaven.

    He healed me of a back problem many years after it began. I didn’t ask for a healing, yet He healed me anyway in His own time. I can’t begin to tell you how many of life’s issues He has gotten me thru. Without Him I would have been totally lost and beaten.

    Our dear Lord and His Holy Mother have been so very good to me, gracing me with gifts beyond belief. I have seen the Miracle of the Sun…a sight so incredible, words cannot actually describe it sufficently. But I shall never forget it! And I was not alone, I had family and friends with me on a Pilgrimage, and they saw it too. I have seen the Corpus of a huge Crucifix come to life, and look directly at me! And at the same time, in-between my sobs, I heard, “See what I did for the love of you and all mankind”. There were other wonderful miracles I was graced to witness. He also allowed me to take miraculous photos, things I did not see with my eyes, but when the film was developed, Holy Images were present. 5 pairs of my rosaries turned from silvertone to a golden tone, at different intervals, including a rosary bracelet and a small Crucifix. These are such exquisite gifts from the Lord and Our Blessed Mother. I cannot thank Them enough!

    If we only knew how much God loves us, we would fall on our knees and adore him unceasingly. And really that is all He wants from us—Love! That is the “secret” of a good life, a decent existance, and our ticket to Heaven. God bless us one and all!

  19. Tracy Burch says:

    I totally and wholeheartedly agree with this helpful article for those of us facing dramatic suffering in our lives. Thank you for putting into words what was in my heart.

    That being said, may I ask you and your readers to PlEASE pray for my dying husband Paul? He has terminal kidney cancer that has spread to his liver, lungs and elsewhere. After surgery, chemo treatments and 5 visits to the best cancer hospital in the country (MD Anderson), even they can offer us NO HOPE. The medical world may say Paul is doomed to die, but we say, “Jesus can and WILL heal him, according to His holy Will.”

    This good and faithful, hardworking servant of God, who is generous and honest to a fault, has much work to do yet in the Great Harvest of Souls. The last project he started before his diagnosis exactly one year ago, was to build a free Soup Kitchen for the Lonely. Paul feels that loneliness is one of the greatest problems in the world today…that we CAN do something about! Once God restores his health, you better belileve those walls will be going up! By the way, Paul insistes that our kids and grandkids be the ones to prepare and serve the meals, thus reinforcing the value of giving and humbling serving others.

    Like the persistent widow in Jesus’ parable, I refuse to quit asking…Padre Pio, Maria Esperanza, Ven. Fr. Solauns Casey, countless other saints and angels (esp. St. Raphael, “The Medicine of God”), deceased relatives and friends, the holy souls in purgatory…ALL are begging God, uniting in prayer before the Almighty, asking the Father in Jesus’ Name, through the intercession of His Most Holy Immaculate Mother Mary, to heal Paul Burch!!!

    Please join me and our 5 children (the youngest is only 14) and our 7 grandchildren (ages 2months – 9 years) who daily ask “Jesus, please heal Papaw”. God’s Will be done in all things. “Thy Will be done, O Lord. Thy Will be done. the Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

    Jesus, I trust in You. IN His Name, Tracy Burch

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      I will pray for Paul, Tracy, and I’ll spread the word. Stay strong!

      God Bless,
      Gary

  20. Suzette says:

    God loves us with a love that we can`t even imagine…He wants us to turn to Him first, with all of our issues , big & small. If we lean on Him for everything we learn He will always answer our prayers. Pray to the Holy Spirit for an understanding and to counsel us . TRUST in Him with faith , patience and no fear . Read scripture , believe it can happen today , then claim your blessings !

    God bless

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